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Nats Owners Impressed with Ted Leonsis

By Kristen Hudak, masnsports.com

Washington, D.C., January 11, 2011 - Speaking at a Washington Post breakfast forum sports business featuring the owners of area teams Tuesday morning, Washington Nationals principal owners Robert Tanenbaum and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum discussed the challenges of owning and developing a baseball team in the nation's capital. Joined by Redskins owners Dan Snyder, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and D.C. United owner Will Chang, the group fielded questions from the Post's Mary Jordan about the market, the business, failures, customer service and social media.

Throughout the discussion, it seemed obvious that fans, business owners, panelists and journalists unanimously believe in Leonsis - and not just because the Capitals have a lot of success on the ice, though that helps.  It's also because he understands and listens to fans, never overlooks the smallest detail and fully embraces new media as a vehicle to develop relationships with fans and control his own branding.

"New media is like oxygen. You better get used to it," Leonsis said rather profoundly.

While Marla Lerner Tanenbaum joked that if she could copy any element of the other D.C. sports teams, it would be a playoff berth, she also explained that she is impressed and inspired by Leonsis' success.

"I love how he embraces new media and I think we're just getting there. Maybe I'm just getting there," she said. "We have a lot of young people on our staff. It's not an afterthought by any means. But I think my generation - my dad, my brother - we have to embrace it a little bit more like Ted does."

Later in the event, Leonsis entertained the crowd with a story about a fan complaint with the popular Dippin' Dots ice cream sold at the Verizon Center. The fan thought the red shade was too pink and not close enough to the bright, bold red used in Capitals branding. Leonsis began investigating the issue because he believes details are important to fans - and fans are important to him.

The Tanenbaums noted that baseball fans are incredibly passionate about the sport and dealing with, understanding and harnessing that passion is a new experience for them as business leaders. "Baseball brings out the best in people," Robert Tanenbaum said, citing an almost electric, tangible feeling at the ballpark. He believes in the authenticity of the ballpark experience, but acknowledged that the Nationals are still learning how to put everything together in a successful way.

Just as they want to learn from Leonsis' new media efforts and customer service operation, the Tanenbaums also hope to encourage renewed development in the area around Nationals Park and develop a strong identity in the city. The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation's Neighborhood Initiative allows the team to go right into district neighborhoods to read to children, restore homes, clean up the environment, visit with wounded soldiers and visit children at hospitals.

Those efforts and the new Nationals Baseball Academy set to open this summer are important ways to grow the sport of baseball in D.C. and to help build the brand in the community, the owners believe. You can learn more about those projects at Nationals.com/Dream.

The event closed with a prediction about each franchise's next championship. Robert Tanenbaum said, "The year of the bear" would coincide with the Nationals' first World Series title, though there appears to be no such notation in Chinese astrology.